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God. Life. Spirituality.

Posts Tagged ‘Joy

The Joy of Less

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“The beat of my heart has grown deeper, more active, and yet more peaceful, and it is as if I were all the time storing up inner riches…My [life] is one long sequence of inner miracles.” The young Dutchwoman Etty Hillesum wrote that in a Nazi transit camp in 1943, on her way to her death at Auschwitz two months later. Towards the end of his life, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “All I have seen teaches me to trust the creator for all I have not seen,” though by then he had already lost his father when he was 7, his first wife when she was 20 and his first son, aged 5. In Japan, the late 18th-century poet Issa is celebrated for his delighted, almost child-like celebrations of the natural world. Issa saw four children die in infancy, his wife die in childbirth, and his own body partially paralyzed.

I’m not sure I knew the details of all these lives when I was 29, but I did begin to guess that happiness lies less in our circumstances than in what we make of them, in every sense. “There is nothing either good or bad,” I had heard in high school, from Hamlet, “but thinking makes it so.” I had been lucky enough at that point to stumble into the life I might have dreamed of as a boy: a great job writing on world affairs for Time magazine, an apartment (officially at least) on Park Avenue, enough time and money to take vacations in Burma, Morocco, El Salvador. But every time I went to one of those places, I noticed that the people I met there, mired in difficulty and often warfare, seemed to have more energy and even optimism than the friends I’d grown up with in privileged, peaceful Santa Barbara, Calif., many of whom were on their fourth marriages and seeing a therapist every day. Though I knew that poverty certainly didn’t buy happiness, I wasn’t convinced that money did either.

So — as post-1960s cliché decreed — I left my comfortable job and life to live for a year in a temple on the backstreets of Kyoto. My high-minded year lasted all of a week, by which time I’d noticed that the depthless contemplation of the moon and composition of haiku I’d imagined from afar was really more a matter of cleaning, sweeping and then cleaning some more. But today, more than 21 years later, I still live in the vicinity of Kyoto, in a two-room apartment that makes my old monastic cell look almost luxurious by comparison. I have no bicycle, no car, no television I can understand, no media — and the days seem to stretch into eternities, and I can’t think of a single thing I lack.

I’m no Buddhist monk, and I can’t say I’m in love with renunciation in itself, or traveling an hour or more to print out an article I’ve written, or missing out on the N.B.A. Finals. But at some point, I decided that, for me at least, happiness arose out of all I didn’t want or need, not all I did. And it seemed quite useful to take a clear, hard look at what really led to peace of mind or absorption (the closest I’ve come to understanding happiness). Not having a car gives me volumes not to think or worry about, and makes walks around the neighborhood a daily adventure. Lacking a cell phone and high-speed Internet, I have time to play ping-pong every evening, to write long letters to old friends and to go shopping for my sweetheart (or to track down old baubles for two kids who are now out in the world).

When the phone does ring — once a week — I’m thrilled, as I never was when the phone rang in my overcrowded office in Rockefeller Center. And when I return to the United States every three months or so and pick up a newspaper, I find I haven’t missed much at all. While I’ve been rereading P.G. Wodehouse, or “Walden,” the crazily accelerating roller-coaster of the 24/7 news cycle has propelled people up and down and down and up and then left them pretty much where they started. “I call that man rich,” Henry James’s Ralph Touchett observes in “Portrait of a Lady,” “who can satisfy the requirements of his imagination.” Living in the future tense never did that for me.

I certainly wouldn’t recommend my life to most people — and my heart goes out to those who have recently been condemned to a simplicity they never needed or wanted. But I’m not sure how much outward details or accomplishments ever really make us happy deep down. The millionaires I know seem desperate to become multimillionaires, and spend more time with their lawyers and their bankers than with their friends (whose motivations they are no longer sure of). And I remember how, in the corporate world, I always knew there was some higher position I could attain, which meant that, like Zeno’s arrow, I was guaranteed never to arrive and always to remain dissatisfied.

Being self-employed will always make for a precarious life; these days, it is more uncertain than ever, especially since my tools of choice, written words, are coming to seem like accessories to images. Like almost everyone I know, I’ve lost much of my savings in the past few months. I even went through a dress-rehearsal for our enforced austerity when my family home in Santa Barbara burned to the ground some years ago, leaving me with nothing but the toothbrush I bought from an all-night supermarket that night. And yet my two-room apartment in nowhere Japan seems more abundant than the big house that burned down. I have time to read the new John le Carre, while nibbling at sweet tangerines in the sun. When a Sigur Ros album comes out, it fills my days and nights, resplendent. And then it seems that happiness, like peace or passion, comes most freely when it isn’t pursued.

If you’re the kind of person who prefers freedom to security, who feels more comfortable in a small room than a large one and who finds that happiness comes from matching your wants to your needs, then running to stand still isn’t where your joy lies. In New York, a part of me was always somewhere else, thinking of what a simple life in Japan might be like. Now I’m there, I find that I almost never think of Rockefeller Center or Park Avenue at all.

~ Pico Iyer

Written by MattAndJojang

March 7, 2016 at 9:03 pm

The Bucket List

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The Bucket List

You know, the ancient Egyptians had a beautiful belief about death. When their souls got to the entrance to heaven, the guards asked two questions. Their answers determined whether they were able to enter or not. ‘Have you found joy in your life?’ ‘Has your life brought joy to others?

— From the movie The Bucket List

Written by MattAndJojang

September 8, 2015 at 11:24 am

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On Being More Than Ourselves Alone

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Photo: maxelmann/Flickr

Photo: maxelmann/Flickr

Housebound, mostly bedridden and in my nineteenth year of an incurable illness, my condition is a difficult one. I’m in a great deal of pain. My contorted body radically restricts all aspects of my mobility. I type these words kneeling on a chair outfitted with pressure sore pads, the only position from which I can use a computer.

People sometimes ask what keeps me going. Long before losing my health, there was the spontaneous mystical experience that awakened me from my youthful despair. It seems to me that the rest of my life has been a matter of learning how to receive what was implicit to that experience.

One of those teachings is often called “nonattachment.” That word, however, can be misleading. Whether nonattachment to our smaller selves comes to us more by way of joy or pain, it’s an entirely positive matter: as we die to the lesser, we live to the greater.

It’s hard to put this process into words, and of course the details are different for different people. But I’ve tried.

Whenever I refer to “the One” I mean the greatest context for our lives including and beyond our ability to comprehend — the ultimate story that holds all our stories. You will want to understand the One as referencing God or being itself according to your views.

The core element in my own thinking about spirituality is that faith is an articulation of love that does not depend on religious or spiritual beliefs of any kind. Faith is existential and one on One: deep down, each of us already experiences an unmediated and absolute faith in relation to being or reality itself. In my writing, I refer to becoming aware of our faith-full love and taking direction from it for our lives as learning to speak the Word in our own names.

When I speak of the path of joy, I don’t mean a life that features especially exciting or happy events. Great joy means paying attention to the joy that your love can readily find in life. In family and friends. Work. Play and relaxation. The “little” things that include what it feels like to have a clean body, adequate shelter, and enough food.

The natural world is especially helpful for nurturing our love’s joy in relation to the whole and only One. Sights and sounds like the broad sky, the wind’s sweep, and the outreach of branching trees expand the soul.

To notice your joys instead of minimizing or discounting them is to become joyous. Notice joy, nourish joy, consciously take advantage of your opportunities to experience joy. Joy known over a long period of time takes you beyond yourself, deepening and expanding your mind beyond the boundaries of your disconnections.

Then you notice how very much about the world there is to love, and this becomes the space that you inhabit. Over time, the normal reading on the scope of your love’s desire for the well-being of others enlarges to include beloved individuals in totalities of concern: your community, nation, species, planet, and even, to borrow from Paul, the only One in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

You could say that home, as a sense of self, is where the heart is. The more you care about something, the more that you identify with it. When you discover that you ultimately care about the greatest context for all our lives, then the power of this larger and more inclusive caring exceeds that of your caring for your separate self. You come to identify more with the One than with yourself alone. (Notice that you do not identify the One with yourself, but yourself with the One.)

You’re likely to outlive some of your greatest joys. Don’t let that be the only period in your life when you become highly aware of them. Notice joy now and it will help you become a person of peace, integrity, and strength when there is less joy in your life.

Crow’s Word
His note, dawn’s foil —
One blow to fill her pale blue bell with sound,
One impulse to deliver; that serves to sever bonds
Of all things that entangle, sully, soil.

This is the Word that blasts the sap,
The sound of force
That lifts the arms of trees;
That fashions-forth the branches from within
To raise this world of darkwood iron all around;
This the rising sound
Of the very juice by which the ground toils,
Becomes each massive trunk and slender tendril coil
Upright, upreared, at prayer.

Bright above, the morning sky awakens,
She blues and beckons like a mother’s eye toward which
The sun climbs, wings beat a path, while feet
With new-found ease
Like light along the spangled grass self-hurl,
Fast follow down that one windfall trail
Being blazed toward Canaan by what lives.

Let this day go gray, grow disenchanted:
I know the crow.

There is depth and even mystery to your love’s joys. They carry a significance that seems to point not so much beyond themselves but down deeper into themselves, further down than you can peer. You end up recalling the joyous times and events of your life in a certain way that hints of how you are more than yourself alone.

It’s less like remembering something that happened to you than like remembering something that happened. It’s like recalling some wonderful event that you happened to witness. You feel a sense of appreciation and privilege at having been there.

Finally, you recall the joys of your love not primarily with the satisfaction of your having experienced them, but with a real joy in their having happened at all. Our love’s encounters with the world seem to have a rightness and significance that’s more than the memories they leave behind in us.

You can lose everything. Health, mobility, freedom, and independence. House and home. Family and friends. Suddenly or gradually, through accident or disease, crime or warfare, you can find your quality of life and your further opportunities in life terribly reduced. If you live long enough, simple aging will do it.

Great pain and difficulty, especially when it’s permanent, can drive you over the edge, or nearly — and drive you instead to identify less with your disconnected self and more completely with the One. Either you find a deeper basis for life once you lose life as you knew it or you complete your destruction with your own anguish.

Of course, it takes time. Anyone faced with such a situation goes through anxiety, outrage, and grief. But if it goes on long enough, then instead of self destructing you can find yourself at or pretty near the end of complaining.

Under great and sustained adversity, and with enough restrictions on your capacity to enjoy life that can’t be removed, you reach a point where you no longer have the luxury of adding to your burden. You find that you genuinely no longer feel like complaining and begin to engage in your struggle and responsibilities without the anguish and agitation that you once experienced. Even if your struggle is physically painful, exhausting and mentally demanding, the process becomes simple and in a way, easy.

One with One, there is a lack of inner contradiction that imparts an effortlessness even to struggle. When you draw back to take your stand inside the wider circle, there is no frustration or discouragement, just the doing of what you can while you can because you can. You are equally ready to live or die not because you imagine a future heavenly reward but because you have already lived and died into your integrity with the One.

Carolina All the Time
Strings untangling their notes
Tentative then growing sure
When just before the intro ends
A lifting bend intones the way ahead
Curving like a road in me. And in my mind
Somehow I know that Carolina’s
Where I’m going all the time.

In my mind I’m going to Carolina
Once upon a time seemed only
Time to time. But now I find a way
Inside of me, ahead of me, behind,
The only road I’ve ever known in me
Right now with me;
It’s been there all the time.

Geese in flight and dogs that bite
Sometimes it seemed so easy and so right
At other times much worse
Than anything I ever had in sight.
The deep of dark turned steeper than the rise of light
The road so rough
It really seemed to me I’d had enough

Until at every turn I came to hear the strings
Untangling their branching notes
To play a winding song in me I would have said
I knew by heart except the melody
Knew me. It was a song
Of going to Carolina all along,
An undercurrent with a sweet and lustrous sheen –

Like brownstream snowmelt swiftly through the park
Or moonbeams crossing highbeams
Driving down a highway through the dark.
You can call it destiny or chance or fate
But you don’t start early and you can’t leave late
When something tuneful tells you that you bear no weight
And Carolina carries you along

If you solve the problem of living, the problem of dying takes care of itself. The love you seem to own is owned from the center by a wider sphere of ownership. You don’t own the love that is yours only to own up to. Underneath it all, your personhood is stark and simple and beautiful. It takes up where the night sky leaves off. You are awesomeness knowing itself from the inside.

~ Paul Martin

Written by MattAndJojang

March 23, 2013 at 10:27 am

No Greater Joy: Photos from Around the World

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Afghan Girl (Photo: Steve McCurry)

Steve McCurry is an American photojournalist best known for “Afghan Girl” a haunting photograph of his that first appeared in National Geographic. Of his work he says, “Most of my images are grounded in people. I look for the unguarded moment, the essential soul peeking out, experience etched on a person’s face. I try to convey what it is like to be that person, a person caught in a broader landscape, that you could call the human condition.” This luminous collection of quotes and photographs from around the world by McCurry is centered around living in joy.

~ Source: http://dailygood.org

Click Here To View The Photos

Written by MattAndJojang

January 4, 2013 at 11:03 am

The Creative Apparatus of God

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Photo: jamelikat/Flickr

Photo: jamelikat/Flickr

I keep a journal that is actually a three ring binder. It allows me to add and remove and organize lots of materials. In the front section of the binder, I keep things I need to keep returning to, things I’ve written, or things I’ve copied, which remind me of the person I am seeking to become. In that section I keep a quote from Evelyn Underhill:

“Our place is not the auditorium but the stage — or, as the case may be, the field, workshop, study, laboratory — because we ourselves form part of the creative apparatus of God, or at least are meant to form part of the creative apparatus of God. He made us in order to use us, and use us in the most profitable way; for his purpose, not ours. To live a spiritual life means subordinating all other interests to that single fact.”

This liberty — this rigorous, demanding vocation — to form part of the creative apparatus of God, is exhaustingly joyous. We all have some beautiful art to make, perform, or sing: words to write, pictures to paint, families to nurture, gardens to grow, lessons to teach, goods to tender, worship to give.

To construe one’s life within such a purview provides all sorts of freedom and artistry and innovation that, in turn, yield serendipitous delights. I suppose “serendipitous delights” is redundant, but I do not know how to avoid such redundancy when employing mere words to get at the sort of delight one might encounter when in the midst of such a vocation.

It is the sort of freedom and joy that the famed runner Eric Liddel, was trying to get at when his character in “Chariots of Fire” says, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” Or the well-spoken commentary of Frederick Beuchner upon vocation: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

It is the sort of gladness I have gotten to taste in working with the Tokens Show. After one of our shows that we did on the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, our friend and supporter Rob Woodfin approached me afterwards and said, “You get to paint on the largest canvas.” It was a beautiful metaphor which I thought altogether apt: we have taken an old-time radio format, obviously indebted to Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion, mixed it with what I like to call a hospitable theology, and then upon such a variety-show-canvas paint fascinating pictures employing the skills of some of the most talented people in the world.

And the results have inevitably been serendipitous — and beautiful.

Our most recent foray at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville was just such a delight. Ah, to see Jeff Taylor continue to work his magic: if you have never heard Jeff play, you have not yet tasted the fullness of musical delights that Music City offers, a maestro at the piano and accordion, a composition genius who can mix bluegrass with classical music performed that night with four of the best string players in Nashville, and on top of all that he plays penny-whistles and squeeze boxes and mandolin and old pump organs, always pulling some new trick out of his bag of musical tricks. His weaving and creating with The Most Outstanding Horeb Mountain Boys — themselves constituting a wealth of talent and volumes of credits there is not here room to tell — remains a thing of beauty to me.

If I remember correctly, Jeff told me years ago that he had tried to quit music twice, sold his instruments and all, until finally he accepted it was his vocation. And all who watch can see the joy of God in Jeff at his work-bench, and it is a magnificent thing to behold.

Or to listen to Vince Gill that night: by all accounts a “super-star” in the music world, whatever that might mean to you, and yet a human being who carries about with him a humility grounded in a gratitude that is beyond reproach. It is such gratitude and humility, I think, that allows him to carry about a bag of words and lyrics and tunes that bespeak the wonder and tragedy of life, the sacramental nature of life, even, like the song he shared about his brother who sought refuge at the mission, needing a place to lay his old drunk head down, being offered bread and water, bread and water, that which sustains life and saves the soul.

Were I to give a play-by-play of all the delights of that night, I would far exceed appropriate blogging column length: but I could not but tell of the joy of Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano of JohnnySwim, singing of Home, daring even to evoke the spirits of Johnny and June on the stage of the Mother Church of Country Music — such daring, I would venture, that Johnny and June would have altogether enjoyed; the harmonies of the McCrary Sisters, calling us to go down to the River of Jordan and sit at the welcome table, as The Movement had done on that hill in Nashville some half-century ago; the “high lonesome sound” of the bluegrass strains of Dailey & Vincent whose harmonies brought the crowd to their feet; Buddy Greene leading all of us in that most wonderful old hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”; Brian McLaren telling us of his post 9/11 exploits to bear witness to a non-violent Jesus; Brother Preacher preaching at the Ryman; the wondrous strains of the Nashville Choir; and Blake Farmer, Merri Collins, and Charlie Strobel all taking their very funny turns at the center microphones.

What joy to form part of the creative apparatus of God.

Exhaustingly joyous, I say.

~ Lee Camp

Written by MattAndJojang

December 28, 2012 at 5:34 pm

Contentment

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Photo: Nicole Raisin Stern/Flickr

I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.

~ Psalm 37:25

Written by MattAndJojang

April 25, 2012 at 4:36 pm

Happy Easter

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“The Lord is risen, alleleuia, alleluia!” ~ Antiphon, Liturgy of the Hours

May the joy of the Risen Christ fill your hearts today. Happy Easter!

~ Matt and Jojang

Written by MattAndJojang

April 8, 2012 at 11:13 am